Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/455

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445
SCIENCE AT THE MEDIEVAL UNIVERSITIES
SCIENCE AT THE MEDIEVAL UNIVERSITIES
By JAMES J. WALSH, M.D., Ph.D., Litt.D.
DEAN AND PROFESSOR OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE AND OF NERVOUS DISEASES AT F0RDHAM UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, NEW YORK

WITH the growth of interest in science and in nature study in our own day, one of the expressions that is probably oftenest heard is surprise that the men of preceding generations and especially university men did not occupy themselves more with the world around them and with the phenomena that are so tempting to curiosity. Science is usually supposed to be comparatively new and nature study only a few generations old. Men are supposed to have been so much interested in book knowledge and in speculations and theories of many kinds, that they neglected the realities of life around them while spinning fine webs of theory. Previous generations, of course, have indulged in theory, but then our own generation is not entirely free from that amusing occupation. Nothing could well be less true, however, that the men of preceding generations were not interested in science even in the sense of physical science, or that nature study is new, or that men were not curious and did not try to find out all they could about the phenomena of the world around them.

The medieval universities and the school-men who taught in them have been particularly blamed for their failure to occupy themselves with realities instead of with speculation. \Ye are coming to recognize their wonderful zeal for education, the large numbers of students they attracted, the enthusiasm of their students since they made so many hand-written copies of the books of their masters, the devotion of the teachers themselves, who wrote at much greater length than do our professors even now and on the most abstruse subjects, so that it is all the more surprising to think they should have neglected science. The thought of our generation in the matter, however, is founded entirely on an assumption. Those who know anything about the writers of the Middle Ages at first hand are not likely to think of them as neglectful of science even in our sense of the term. Those who know them at second hand are, however, very sure in the matter.

The assumption is due to the neglect of science that came in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We have many other similar assumptions because of the neglect of many phases of mental development and applied science at this time. For instance, most of us are very proud of our modem hospital development and think of this as a great humanitarian evolution of applied medical science. We are very